Nausicaa Manga Review

Studio Ghibli fans, or followers of the career of Hayao Miyazaki, will know that as well as being the famous animator and creator of films like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, Hayao was also an illustrator and writer of manga. I recently read perhaps his most influential manga, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. In this Nausicaa manga review, I hope to bring some of this great work to life in the hopes that you’ll make time to read it.

If you are like me, and had only enjoyed the animation of Miyazaki, then this multi-volume manga is the perfect place to start expanding your palate.

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Fantastic Four Foundation, Review



Continuing my FF reading campaign, I’ve reached the conclusion of Volume Six – Fantastic Four Foundation, and with it the end of Jonathan Hickman’s run on the fabled series.

This graphic novel was more of a story collection than a collected storyline, with nothing tying the editions together. I enjoyed nearly all of them.

As a conclusion to a major writer’s tenure, it was curious, as it did not give us a great story or sense of finality like in Volume Five. Instead, it served to tie up loose ends.


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IDK, Independence Day 2 Review

I see it in the science fiction forums, and the Facebook groups, the ones that say, “Don’t listen to the critics! See this movie!” They really defy reality sometimes, huh? Because I’m here, your resident critic, and I’ll do nothing short of plead with you.

I won’t tell you not to see this movie, or any movie; I would never deny a person their curiosity, or the right to scratch their own itch. But in this Independence Day 2 review, I hope to get something very simple across. It’s like a lot of sequels. So my warning looks more like: don’t see this movie expecting something good. Don’t expect it to live up to your memories of the first film from 1996.

You will get the inkling of a decent concept, a few gags, and perhaps a bit of nostalgia. But the movie at large is replete with self-centered characters, silly parts, and plot holes. It reeks of a lazy storytelling hand, and a team that didn’t take the movie seriously to begin with.

Ready to celebrate your critical independence with me? It was 20 years in the making.

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Fantastic Four Forever, Review

One thing I realized reading Fantastic Four Forever: it’s been too long since I’ve read Fantastic Four!

Jonathan Hickman’s story about the Kree invasion of Earth, the Celestials’ attack on the planet, Council of Reeds, humanity’s relationship with Galactus, and the evolution of the FF itself (and add to that many other things) has me recalling why this is the first (dysfunctional) family of Marvel. It also moves me to assert that we should think of Reed Richards as the Superman of Marvel (but we can get to that later).

World’s Greatest Comic Magazine? Not sure. But this was one of my favorite comics in a while.

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Dances with Wolves Review, Classic

Lieutenant Dunbar wasn’t really swallowed. But that was the first word that stuck in his head. Everything was immense.

This Dances with Wolves review is brought to you by over 500 native tribes, a bloody past, the 1990 film of the same name which helped popularize the story, a stampede of buffalo, and last but not least, author Michael Blake.

For some reason, this has never found its way into any of my favorites lists, or into too many enlightened conversations with bookish friends. But that does not mean that Michael Blake’s novel about a disillusioned Civil War era lieutenant did not find its way into my heart.

Because in all honesty, in all truth, in all reality, when I look at it, Dances with Wolves is one of my all-time favorite reads.

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Slaughterhouse-Five Review, Classic

Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.

To do a Slaughterhouse-Five review is to do your own ‘duty-dance with death.’ So it was when I read Kurt Vonnegut’s classic about, among other things, the bombings of Dresden and a man moving backward and forward through time. I read it about two years ago, but the most powerful reads feel like you read them yesterday.

Some books, as you know, do more than take you away, or inform you. Some books change you just a little bit, and help you to find your own voice. The late author connected so easily with me. If you are new to Vonnegut, or his black humor, or if you intend to read based on a review such as this, you might be surprised just how easily he connects with you.

My first experience with Vonnegut was the novel Cat’s Cradle, which my friend Joe probably lost in the sands of Afghanistan soon after I lent it out to him. This is very Vonnegut. To lose a book warning about the perils of a doomsday weapon, and war, in the midst of a war where it might have been useful, is the kind of unfortunate thing that might have made him smile just a little.

Next came his short story, “2 B R 0 2 B” which we (my WYRM cohorts and I) used as the basis for a round of The Gauntlet some years ago. This, too, yielded some hilarious results, as it led to a copypasta job (I hesitate to say plagiarism) from Wikipedia, and then one entrant deciding to ascribe some curious, and very conservative, political viewpoints to the author, which he did not hold. Why?

None of this made sense, yet, that is what Vonnegut is always telling us in his work. Life often doesn’t make sense. There may be nothing intelligent to say about a massacre, but there is something quite intelligent to say about Vonnegut. And along the way, he might make you laugh inappropriately. Without further ado, this was my experience with Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death.

I wondered what a ‘Children’s Crusade’ might be a reference to when I first picked this up, or what one might look like. Evidently, it would look a lot like World War II.

Vonnegut himself was an American soldier during the war, who witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany as a POW. He noted just how many of the soldiers were youngsters, from both the Allies, and their enemies, and how much was riding on youth. Is that because so many more seasoned men had already been killed, or because the young are inevitably the ones who get sent off to war? Picture something so significant and grim acted out by mainly children. Makes one speculate about the rest of history.

No one I know, not me, my soldier-friend Joe, nor Vonnegut himself, can really compare to Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of this novel. He is the utterly hapless American soldier who begins to relive the events of his life after he becomes ‘unstuck in time.’ These events include the war, his career as an eye doctor, his unhappy marriage, later career as a conspiracy theorist, his death, and of course time spent with the Tralfamadorians.

This book can be classified as science fiction. The Tralfamadorians are the aliens who take notice of Pilgrim’s time traveling. This moving backward and forward through the years is not done in a machine, or in any way we’ve become accustomed to in sci-fi. Pilgrim’s traveling is more personal; he simply wakes up at different points in his life.

Though they abduct him, and place him in an alien zoo, these aliens also endeavor to teach Billy something. The substance of this lesson could be taken two ways, either as serious philosophy, or more gallows humor. Perhaps it is both.

When one begins to see things the way they do on Tralfamadore, one asks if there is any point in trying to change anything. Does anything we do matter? Is this nihilism? That’s up for debate, but if you read with an open mind, you may begin to look at your own life differently, and no matter what terrible things befall you, you may think twice before you despair.

On Tralfamadore, they can see how things really happen. Events in time occur simultaneously. My duty-dance went like this: even though I will die, I was quite alive in the past. I guess I shouldn’t fret, huh? I am always alive.

Or, maybe like this: I will read this book. I have read this book. I have always been reading this book.

When are you going to dance?

Slaughterhouse-Five was made into a movie in 1972. Next on my Vonnegut reading list is Mother Night.

(For anyone deeply concerned over whether or not I get my copy of Cat’s Cradle back, do note that I myself lost soldier-friend Joe’s copy of The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac in the depths of my closet. Even Steven.)

Book Review: Startide Rising by David Brin

So, I hope you didn’t think I just gave reading updates around here. I still review books, too.

I read this one late last year. What did I think of Startide Rising by David Brin? Let us dive into that question, into an off-world ocean filled with sentient dolphins, with unique spacecraft, and with what some have called bad poetry.

For starters, I don’t call it bad poetry. I don’t because I myself know little about crafting good poetry; Mister Brin at this moment is a finer poet than I, as I’m sure he was in 1983, before my birth.

True, the ‘trinary’ poems of characters like Hikahi and Creideiki are not on the level of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by S.T. Colridge or “Dover Beach” by Mathew Arnold, two of my favorite poems, but let’s not forget we’re talking about dolphins here. Dolphins who have not mastered sentience, let alone the finer points of iambic pentameter. Perhaps they’re not supposed to be good poets. But, to look at some of these goodreads reviews, you’d think these verses were crimes against humanity, making the book impossible to enjoy.

Actually, I appreciated a bit of trinary, especially some that came later in the novel from Keepiru, which served to reveal a side plot about secret genetic engineering:

* Cold water boils

               When you scream

* Red-jawed hunger

               Fills your dream

* Harpoons slew

               The whales,

* The nets of Iki

               Caught us,

* Yet you, alone

               We feared at night

* You alone—

               . . . Orca.

It made me a little frightened of killer whales.

Anyway, I guess this review has begun in the middle of a story. Let’s catch up.

Startide Rising is the second book in David Brin’s Uplift saga. ‘Uplift’ is the process of elevating other animal species to human-level sentience and intelligence. In the novel, species such as chimpanzees and dolphins have been uplifted by human beings through genetic manipulation. A number of these creatures form the crew of the deep space vessel, Streaker.

They are of course accompanied by a few respected humans, who are veterans of this sort of thing. However, technical rank belongs to the dolphins, and with a character I grew fond of, Captain Creideiki. He will bring much needed wisdom and Zen to the crew, as many of them show signs of succumbing to the Whale Dream, a primal state of madness brought on by the stresses of the mission.

Their mission? To report back to Earth about their discovery of an ancient fleet of alien vessels, which are rumored to belong to the species that uplifted humans.

What stresses could this mission bring on, you ask? Well, we’ve got a few.

  • Galactics hunting the dolphin/human crew, as they want the information for themselves.
  • A full-blown mutiny aboard Streaker, instigated by both human and dolphin collaborators.
  • Getting marooned on an ocean planet saturated with heavy metals.
  • Indigenous, pre-uplift creatures who are put in danger by these shenanigans.
  • One traitorous chimpanzee.

I believe I liked the dolphins best, especially Creideiki, Akki, and Keepiru. They are the finest examples of humanity in this novel, though Gillian and Toshio, the humans, are okay, too. Tomas Orley on the other hand struck me as very much a superman who could do everything well. While he undertook a dangerous mission, I did not ever really fear for his safety. I found him too perfect for me to like, and I could not really consider him the hero of the novel. To me, that will always be Akki, who, if you read his desperate underwater fight scene, might just make a believer out of you.

As for the galactics, while they could be entertaining, and they make great use of some unique psychic abilities, many of them come across as cheesy in their design and behavior. They are brutal in their beliefs and mentalities, making me wish I never run across one. To galactics, to provide uplift means getting indentured servitude in return. The humans are, well, more humanitarian.

The book’s habitual scene breaks, and just as many shifts in point of view, made reading sluggish for me, like other readers, but I cannot deny the payoffs, nor the unexpected mysticism, I was finally treated to. It may not be for everyone, but the concept alone for Startide Rising is so strong, and along with the story’s excitement, I can safely say it deserves respect.

Startide Rising won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards for best novel in 1984. It is followed by The Uplift War, and preceded by Sundiver. I do wish the books were more connected than they appear to be—apart from the obvious connection of uplift—or that the characters I’ve gotten to know appear in the other books, as I would read the rest of this first trilogy.

There is a novel set in the Uplift universe that came out years later, Brightness Reef, that I’d like to check out, though. It would be interesting to see how Brin’s characters or writing style have changed.

Batman v Superman Backlash, Fan Edition

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has come out, and to no one’s real surprise, a lot of people dislike it.

Some would say they hate it.

Others would even say they are boycotting it.

But what is behind Batman v Superman backlash? Is it the reaction of fans who got another lazy blockbuster when they would rather have had a film with some feeling and character continuity? Is there more to it for these fans, myself included, who respect comic book history? Who do we ask? Where do we begin?

We can begin with a story. Once upon a time, my friend Dan and I went to see a movie.

(Well, I saw the movie. Dan is another matter.)

My own issues with this film are not unique, but I think I can sum them up in a blurb: plot all over the place, awkward dream sequences, why is Doomsday in this movie?

However, to get a better sense of a purist’s distaste for Batman v Superman, I had a conversation with a longtime reader of Superman and Batman comics. I talked to Dan. I told him that I was seeing the movie, to which he replied, On Easter Sunday, dude?!

Well, we kept talking, and he even said I could blog about it. So, read on. You may find his opinions illuminating.

Dan, the obvious question. Do you plan to see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice?

Maybe at some point. Certainly not in the theater.

Sounds like a full-on boycott.

Well, that’s my intention. It won’t mean much to the overall success of the movie, but I’ll be happy knowing it won’t be making any money off of me.

I know I’ve felt the same way about movies, so I can understand. And I know you’re fond of both characters, but out of curiosity, would you say you’re a bigger fan of Superman, or of Batman? Does it even matter?

Probably more of a Superman fan these days. As a kid, Batman was one of my favorites. I didn’t compare him to Superman, but I loved Batman. It wasn’t because he’s human, but because he has these crazy cool villains. And he had a sidekick which I identified with as a younger brother to a kid who loved Batman, too. In my mind, I could be the Robin to my brother’s Batman.

But somewhere along the way, I started investing more time into Superman. I loved reading about this guy who came to this planet as an orphan. He was raised to put others before himself, can fight the most powerful creatures on the planet, but still takes the time to help a little girl find her mom when she’s lost in the mall. He tells a girl who’s contemplating suicide, ‘Hey, you’re stronger than you know. It’s not as bad as it seems, and I’m here for you.’ Both these types of things happen in the comics, which makes me love him more.

To me, Batman is the hero who shows kids that he’s stronger than the growing pains, and whatever life throws at us. Superman is the guy I look to when I want to find hope in myself, or in others, or when someone I don’t know well asks for a favor.

Do you think the producers of this movie understand the Superman you’ve just described? We have, by all accounts, been seeing a dark Superman.

They don’t understand Superman, that much is true. They barely seem to understand Batman as I know him. They’ve just turned him into an asshole who is no longer worried about killing because ‘if it happened in other movies—why not ours?’


Dan with Kevin Conroy, longtime voice of the animated Batman

People wanted to see Superman hit things, not necessarily a dark and whiny character. But Snyder and Goyer don’t see a difference with that.

You may not have seen the film, but you have been told about it by a number of people, and I’ve seen you share nearly every review or article about Batman v Superman. So, what’s wrong with it?

What’s wrong with it? Besides the fundamental misunderstanding of the characters whose names are in the title, there are problems with plot, not being able to control or maintain enough storylines for the movie to work, and everything seems to suffer because of it.

They didn’t just fly too close to the sun. They flew into it. What’s left is the ash of a movie that could have been good if they decided to focus on what matters.

Let’s pretend for a minute that DC and Warner Bros. care what you and I think. As a comic book fan who wants to see a good comic book movie, what could have made this film better?

I mean, any number of things. Editing, character development, a sensible plot, a taste of things to come, and maybe a lesson to be learned by the characters in it? But that’s not what we got. Yet, people will go anyway because it’s the first time the trinity of DC is in a movie. Or, because it’s got Batman fighting Superman, like casual fans have been wanting since the comic Dark Knight Returns came out in the 80s.

Maybe give Superman and Batman a real resolution to their fight, not ‘Hey, both our mom’s names are Martha. Let’s forget the fact that I think you’re an overpowered God who should be killed, or that you think I’m a deranged vigilante whose brutal methods make me just as bad as the people I’ve sworn to fight.’ Maybe make Lois less of a damsel in distress. Maybe give Lex a decent motive for why he’s pissed at Superman.

But Zack Snyder can’t tell a story to save his life. He can make things look beautiful and spectacular, but that’s not enough to make a story good. It’s enough to get someone interested, but not enough to enjoy the movie. And I know because I’ve seen Sucker Punch. The movie looked great, but made no sense at all.

Do you agree with sites, such as The Comics Beat, which have said that Batman V. Superman sacrificed storytelling just to set up a Justice League franchise? iO9 has also detailed how much of the movie was set-up.

I think it did take time away from plot and character development to introduce characters, and set up the League. The problem with that was it came off as forced, and seemed more like a pathetic attempt than an organic sequence in the movie.

You said that they barely understood Batman earlier. Can I ask, did Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan understand him?

Hollywood seems to lose more and more of its understanding of who Batman is, and how he does things. Nolan and Burton made fine Batman films, but there were flaws to the character. Burton’s Batman saw him attaching dynamite to a thug, and tossing him into the sewer to kill him, where Nolan’s Batman took eight years off after the death of Rachel. These things would never happen, and I say this as a fan of both the Burton and Nolan films.

Will we–can we–ever see an ideal movie for either Batman or Superman? Have we seen one already?

You can take liberties with these characters. Lord knows you can’t make them 100% like the comics they come from, but even then there are some things that are vital to what makes these characters who they are.

Richard Donner Superman movies were my ideal Superman movies. They made the character believable. He didn’t live in our world, but we wanted to live in his. Superman hadn’t been brought down to our level as humans like Zack Snyder has done, but he had helped elevate us to his level like he’s supposed to.

As for Batman, the Adam West movie was an ideal version of him in that time period, although I’ve never seen a perfect live action version of the character. The closest we’ve been is probably The Dark Knight.

But there are several animated movies that have shown the Superman I know and love, and the same goes for Batman. Superman vs the Elite, and All Star Superman. Batman: Under the Red Hood, and Batman Year One. I hold out hope that we’ll get another chance to see a live action movie where the caped crusader meets the blue boy scout, and become the best of friends they’re known to be in the comics. Yeah, they can fight, but let it be more believable as to why and how it ends. Let the movie have no clear winner.

Scott Snyder wrote in a more recent issue of his acclaimed Batman run, ‘Who wins in a fight between Batman and Superman? The answer? No one does.’


Dan with Batman writer Scott Snyder and brother Jim

Dan would like to thank his brothers Jim and Stephen, and his friend Ryu, for giving him detailed descriptions of the film. Ink’s My Thing would like to thank Dan for his time. We know readers who will appreciate his honesty.

If you’re a reader dropping by with an opinion, we hope you won’t keep it to yourself.

Star Wars Rebels: The Rant

I didn’t want to come here. You made me come here.

I speak of the YouTube comments that ruined my day, and have forced me to put all else aside.

Do you watch Star Wars Rebels? You know, that Disney project they probably churned out as an afterthought on coffee breaks during the editing of Inside Out. That show with the kind-of-weird animation, and too few flips during the lightsaber duels. The show that foolishly places storytelling and character development before fight scene choreography. How dare they anyway? How dare they spit on the memory of Clone Wars, or screw up dueling forms from 1 through 5, and how dare their lightsabers be so skinny?

Well, haters, we all can’t have a huge lightsaber.

I grant the following.

• The animation found in Star Wars Rebels would seem rougher than what Clone Wars had to offer.
• The fight scenes in the present cartoon are not mind-blowing in terms of their scale or fire power.
• I’m a Clone Wars fan. Although, I find myself watching it more now than I did when it was on the air. Mostly, I’ve done this because it has been held up as the example new Star Wars creators must live up to.

Yet, less is more.

Not everything we see can—or should—be epic. Not every battle must contain ten combatants wielding double-bladed lightsabers, performing the moves of a figure skater. Every episode need not be a Kung-Fu movie. Not every character you run across should be overpowered, or have an arsenal of force abilities, befitting only a boss from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

In fact, the very reason Kanan of the rebels is a good character is because he is an average Jedi, even below average. A person can relate to him, which is kind of important as far as telling a story goes.

There is a reason that, while Clone Wars has been called a very good cartoon, Rebels has been called the spiritual successor to the original Star Wars trilogy. It was The Force Awakens before The Force Awakens hit the box office, and it is a shame that it is not often recognized for this achievement. Does everything come down to action sequences, or visual perfection?

• To those who attack the use of Ahsoka, Anakin’s apprentice on Clone Wars, merely because she is not a Disney creation—would you rather Disney pretend she never existed?
• Ask yourself if Luke Skywalker really cared what form of lightsaber combat he was using as he dared to fight Vader for the first time. Do you think he paused on his way to Bespin to count his midi-chlorians first—you know, to make sure they were all there? Ask yourself if any of this was going through the heads of original fans.
• Have you ever felt the way you felt when Kanan first drew his lightsaber in the premier, though all Jedi were presumed dead? Do you ever recall a scene, even from Clone Wars, that was anything like it? Because these are the things that matter.

If you disparage Rebels because you dislike Disney, or feel gross because an ‘evil empire’ has taken control of your beloved saga, I hear you. What you feel toward Disney now is the way many other fans felt during the releases of episodes I-III, that something near and dear to you has been corrupted.

You may be proven right one day, and Star Wars may be stripped of its soul, downgraded to a cute theme park ride or something. But that day is not today. Hate to break it to anyone out there, but storytelling must be judged on its merits, not on what is attached to the project. And in case you’ve missed it, at this moment, Star Wars stories are thriving.


Praise for Hyperion Cantos

It took me a while to find that one series every fan has, the one we all point to as our series. For a lot of people, it’s Harry Potter, or it’s Hunger Games. Some people have more than one series. I never had one until now. Now, I’m just like you.

Short stuff and standalones have always come easier to me, so enjoying a series seemed like kind of an aberration. I like a sense of oneness, and read for that well-crafted ending that comes after just the right amount of anticipation.

Then the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons came into my life. (Those books that have been around for twenty some years, but only took me twenty some to find). I think it was the frame format that got me hooked on book one, initially, the homage it paid to The Canterbury Tales. Each chapter was a story belonging to a traveler. And the travelers? All connected to the planet Hyperion. They’re on their own pilgrimage, confronting the Shrike. It’s hard to say whether the Shrike is a character, an idea, a force of nature, or something else. That’s what makes meeting the ‘angel of final retribution’ so attractive. Some say the monster and religious icon isn’t real at all. It is simply unquantifiable.

The first book ends this way, just as the pilgrims get behind the curtain of time which hides the Shrike. “We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz…”

It turns out that I didn’t mind at all that neither events, nor the futures of characters, were concluded in the first installment. The sequel took the shreds of cyberpunk and politics offered in the first book, and wove the tapestry. Then came characters like Ummon. Oh, Ummon, how could I ever hope to explain you? Although the second book does not have quite the craft, is not nearly as tight, it treats us to a payoff so satisfying that it conjured Childhood’s End. Brawne Lamia, John Keats, Sol, the Consul—I feel like I know them. So, I guess what I’m really trying to say is that the Cantos did what any good story was meant to. I have never read so fast in my life.

But here’s the rub. I can’t go on. I feel like I have to take some advice from another Goodreads reviewer. They warned not to read beyond The Fall of Hyperion, and I’ll be dammed if I’m going to. Just like I’ll be damned if I get too excited for the would-be television series about said books. If what follows is just not the same, or too many special things have changed, I don’t think I could take it. And if that doesn’t speak to how highly I think of the first two books of the series, maybe this will.

Reading the Cantos got me so excited about storytelling that it made me want to sit down and work. And I did. And I think it was Hyperion’s love for literary allusions that helped me write what I ended up with. Perhaps later, when I’m ready, I will finish the series. But for now, I can say my own story is finished. Ironic that two novels wanted me to put aside my novel-writing, and hammer out a short story. Whatever the case, I’m looking to shop that story soon, so look for Lugo while you can in a slushpile near you!